Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016) – RIP

ScaliaI’m a gay man and I’m saying don’t spit or dance on Antonin Scalia’s grave. I believe in prison abolition and radical police and justice reform including being staunchly against the death penalty and I say don’t curse his name. I am black and very aware that affirmative action is still very much necessary and I say do not remember him only as an ignorant or backward bigot. I believe in every woman’s right to choose what is best for her body (as men choose every day…often against women’s will) without coercion or politicians and with the full support of a sane civil society with universal health care and I say do not write Antonin Scalia off as a religiously motivated woman-hating zealot.

I say this because, if the current antics on the Presidential campaign trail are any indication, we are headed into an astoundingly complicated time in the history of this country. We face a field of candidates still dominated by whites and men while the five states with the largest numbers of voting delegates (California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois) are already or are nearly majority people of color.[1] The Democratic Party seems poised and eager to completely devour Hillary Clinton, a product of the party and arguably one of the most qualified women and one of the most experienced politicians* in the history of Presidential politics. Black Lives Matter protestors are interrupting infrastructure, Ta-Nehesi Coates has re-mounted the call for reparations, all the while the first black President, the son of an African migrant, is presiding over some of the broadest and most aggressive sweeps and deportations of undocumented people of color in the history of the nation. In short, we are in a time of confusing, stark, sometimes lethal and always uncomfortable contrasts.

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. – bell hooks (killing rage: Ending Racism – 1995)

These words are our challenge today. I hear the challenge in conversation about justice reform: How do we assure peace in our communities and hold the keepers of that peace accountable without inhibiting their effectiveness? How do we assure that thieves pay for their crimes when those same thieves are stealing so they don’t starve? How do we oppose the death penalty in the same breath that we claim deep religious values and insist on total retribution for the murder of children? How do we restore the victim of rape to wholeness and peace in themselves and justify restoring the rapist to community? These seem impossible to reconcile. But if we are to listen to bell hooks, the answer must exist somewhere in our ability to affirm our differences without obscuring one another. Now more than ever, we must acknowledge the basic equity of humanity at the foundation our existence. With this acknowledgement, we might actively increase our capacity to embrace and live with difference…and work with it. We might find a way to actually stand in the same room with our ideological enemies without shouting them down or simply walking away. This is new. This is uncharted. We do not have language for it yet. I, for one, certainly don’t know what it looks like. But recalling some of Scalia’s vitriol and then watching the President offer a tribute to him while reminding us that before politics, we must take time to comfort and to mourn, might be heading in the right direction. – RIP

Watch or Read: Obama On Scalia

[1] US Census – http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

*No other candidate for President of the United States has been a former US Senator, United States Secretary of State, First Lady of the United States, First Lady of a US State (Arkansas), and an attorney.

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

Add your photos to my ‘un-mugged’ project on facebook or tumblr #adamdyersays

Hero

We are in a precarious and unpredictable world.  We are asking ourselves if we can trust each other, trust ourselves and asking if we can trust that the world to which we are all contributing will ultimately be safe enough (politically, strategically and environmentally) for us to actually survive.  What do laws mean if no one follows them?  What does faith mean if no one has it?  If you think about it, a lot of these kinds of questions have been answered in the past by the basic human nature of having heroes.  Those people our societies have held aloft as the representatives of the ideals and concepts that we collectively hold to be most admirable: the ability to overcome adversity; strength of convictions; pure talent; the embodiment of beauty, etc.

What a week for heroes.  Lance Armstrong, like him or not, was one of our heroes.  He knowingly took those ideals of ours and consciously manipulated his world so that he appeared to be in that model of human nobility and perfection.  We can’t ask why.  We want to judge someone who takes our idea of hero and turns it into a self serving opportunity.  We want to have some kind of compensation for being duped.  But we must be better than that.  He has to answer to himself and that will be the challenge and shame he carries for the rest of his life.  No book deal, no future achievement of any kind can diminish the torture that he will carry to his grave and the torture carried by those directly affected by him.  It is its own punishment.  But it is a situation that leaves us wondering what was it that let us believe that he was a hero if he really wasn’t one?  With the multitude of people who surrounded him who knew what was going on (I had actually heard about his methods in sports circles and have heard for years through people who have known him that he is a dirty competitor), why did we let ourselves believe that he was more than the “emperor with new clothes?”

And then you have Barack Obama; sworn in for a 2nd term as the 44th President of the United States; galvanizing the country toward stricter gun laws, immigration reform and even the possibility of marriage equality.  Standing tall and proud as a man of color and the winner in a game that has been dominated by an elite white male establishment for more than 200 years.  Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I am a big Obama supporter, but I would claim that as a hero and on a certain level, Barack Obama in triumph is really no greater or less than Lance Armstrong in disgrace.  Obama is a politician.  He has played a system (American politics), and worked the process and used the resources available to him no less than any competitive cyclist from the Armstrong era, except the stadium in which Obama is playing expects you to use political transfusions and creative medicine marketing to get your outcome.  By all means, I do not want to call the legitimacy of Obama’s re-election into question and if that is your rebuttal to this blog, I ask you to refrain from comment…that is not the point of this discussion.  My point here is that we WANT heroes regardless of what form they present themselves.   We WANT to believe that there are just some people on this planet who “play the game” who are gifted; not just lucky, but gifted, whether that be in ability or opportunity or vision or divine inspiration.

Oddly enough, we have these heroes around us all the time.  And among those heroes are some Barack Obamas and some Lance Armstrongs.  There are some who are definitely playing a game, but it is a game in which we are willing to accept (for now) the twisted rhetoric and conflict between noble aspirations and back room deals.  And on the other hand, there are some who are creating their own playing field and using the good faith of those around them for their own opportunistic desires.  Yet, for that moment while we accept all of our heroes as the beacon in the distance, we find guidance and inspiration in who they show themselves to be with us.  We WANT heroes.

So what is this about?  We see heroes around us every day.  We are inspired and we inspire others.  I am always blown away by the e-mails I receive from total strangers who see the P90X videos and thank me…I am honored to have played the hero (even if it meant someone was cursing me under their breath)…but I certainly didn’t set out to be a hero.  I just did a job that was asked of me, to the best of my ability according to my upbringing, training and education.  We all have these opportunities to inspire.  I have received some of the most truly heroic encouragement in my journey toward ministry, toward physical self acceptance, toward love…and these heroes may not realize the strength of that lifeline they cast my way. I believe that the first place to look for our heroes must be within ourselves.  We can only be absolutely sure of the integrity that we bring ourselves.  We cannot hold anyone else to our standard, but rather we must set an example.  If we bring our best selves to every endeavor, we will fill the role of hero for someone.  Even if it is fleeting, and even if we are actually more Armstrong than Obama, we must first answer to ourselves and if we are spiritual, to our faith center.  From there, integrity, hope and aspiration to a higher ideal can spread to others.  THIS makes a better world.  Remember the real hero is within.

To all of my heroes, thank you.  You are with me every day and I love you all.

Dedicated to my mother, Edwina Weston-Dyer (1932-2012) 

Not Quite Back to Before

When President Barack Obama won re-election last week, the first thing that came to my mind was hearing Marin Mazzie sing the song “Back to Before” every night while I was in Ragtime on Broadway.  That was always my personal favorite of Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics from the entire show.  It reads like a love poem to a cherished and familiar lover that one must let go.  There are so many lettings go that we do in life.  Close friends of mine know that my favorite poem is by Elizabeth Bishop (One Art) and the refrain “the art of losing…” speaks to the way we tumble through life leaving behind a trail of ourselves that can never be recaptured.  Truly on election night, the United States left behind many things that say we can never go back to “before.”

On a personal level though, this signaled a breakthrough for me.  I carefully considered what it must feel like for those who were not supporting Obama to see this shift.  There seemed to be much more at stake than just an election.  We see that now with all of the secession petitions being signed and rhetoric about conservatives wanting to leave the country.  There was something endangered and then lost to these people that was extremely dear.  Was it privilege or power?  Or was it the foundation of how they defined themselves?  Looking in the mirror, I realized that somewhere along the lines, in all of my own letting go of life, I had left a part of myself behind that I too deeply loved; something that had defined how I saw myself for my entire early life: music.  The whole reason I was able hear Marin sing in 1998 as part of the incredible cast of that original show, was because when I was 13, Dr. Theodore Davidovich from the New England Conservatory of Music heard me sing a solo in the Northeast Junior District Choir and then suggested that I speak with someone at the school about voice lessons…that someone was Kim Scown, tenor, who lovingly introduced me to the magic of making music with my voice.  This was supported by the careful, if sometimes unorthodox, methods of George Perrone at Framingham South High who drilled me in music theory and other life lessons and discipline and I emerged from my youth a fairly well formed, near professional musician. College, cabaret shows, concerts, choirs, cruise ships, Broadway and National Tours followed…

And then one day, I had to leave it behind me.

There are many reasons this happens.  For me, it was about the need to discover that I was really more than just a body and a voice.  As a performer, it is easy to feel reduced to those things.  A Chorus Line asks that wonderful question, “Who am I anyway, am I my resume?”  And it is true.  We feel reduced to skill sets and types.  I knew I had more to offer: intuitive people skills, analytical capabilities, leadership skills.  These were all things I needed to discover about myself in order to get to where I am today.

It is the same with this election.  Many of us thought that ’08 was about “change.”  Change from the nightmare that had begun in 2000.  But ’08 was only about setting the stage for change.  The real change only began with last week’s election result and it happened because of a shift in the status quo.  We are no longer defined by how white, middle aged and male we are.  We are actually defined by our total diversity (including white middle aged men) and how that diverse population wants to see the world.  Funny, back in 2002, I was inspired to start a web based movement about diversity.  Some of my conservative friends scoffed at it; well, just look where we are today!  As a country, we can never go back to ‘before’ and where we are headed has the potential to be much brighter for more of us than where we came from…if we give it a chance.  This is a defining and transformative moment in our culture.  If we are smart, we will embrace it and look at the beautiful evolution that is taking place for all of us.

For myself, I am looking at my own evolution and re-re-inventing myself.  But like the song says, I can never go back to before.  So, I am still on track to become a Unitarian Universalist Minister; but I’ve learned that my ministry must come from my heart and soul which is my music…but a ‘new music’ if you will.  My music doesn’t have to define me anymore.  I will never be the young singer with stars in his eyes who was willing to get on a Greyhound Bus at 3 in the morning to make the 6 hour trip from Boston to New York, just to be seen for a part in a show.  I left him and his selfish dream behind.  I am free.  I am now, approaching 50, someone who has embraced so much more of who I am as a person and a leader and a real “voice” committed to making real change happen for people.  I am am carried on the wave of the voices of millions of people who never really felt like they had a stake in this country before last Tuesday.  People who must now be heard in all of their glorious harmony everywhere there are ears and hearts to hear.

At last, it is time for me to really start singing.  I look forward to sharing my journey, not quite back to ‘before’ with you all.

The following is a montage of selections from two performances on Holland America Line in 2007.  Thank you Yeonae Nam and Paul Pappas for the accompaniment.